Q&A: Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert's support of game-changing directors earns the DGA's Honorary Life Member Award

He's never directed a film, but during his 48-year career as America's most well-known film critic, Roger Ebert has influenced thousands by championing the early works of filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Mike Leigh and Werner Herzog. In advance of his receiving the DGA's Honorary Life Member Award, Ebert -- his voice silenced by throat surgeries -- exchanged emails with THR's Matthew Belloni.

The Hollywood Reporter: One of your first reviews was a mixed assessment of "La Dolce Vita." Where would you now put Fellini in the hierarchy?

Ebert: Way up there. That first review shows I had some learning to do.

THR: The '70s produced a crop of American directors that many believe has not been matched since. Do you agree?

Ebert: It all changed with "Star Wars." Before that, everybody wanted to make the Great American Film. After, they wanted to make the Great American Hit. There was a true radical sensibility at loose in the land, a "film generation." Repertory houses, film societies -- all nurturing good films.

THR: What's a film you wish you had directed?

Ebert: That presumes I could have directed it better, and if I admire it that much, I certainly couldn't have. One film, which I consider a masterpiece, I could not have directed better, but it illustrates the kind of film I would like to make: Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven" (1978).

THR: What's the biggest mistake directors make?

Ebert: The quick-cutting, queasy-cam thing is out of control.

THR: You wrote a book on Scorsese. What don't we know about him?

Ebert: I was astonished that so many readers were surprised by how deeply Catholicism is involved in his imagination.

THR: What's the oddest thing a filmmaker has said to you?

Ebert: Calcutta, 1999, Gus Van Sant on why he did a shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho": "So that nobody else would have to."

THR: Who is the filmmaker whose career trajectory has surprised you the most?

Ebert: Clint Eastwood. He was a good director from the get-go, but he rose steadily to a greatness which few might have predicted. In visual strategy, he is a practitioner of the classical style, which is overdue for a general return.

THR: What is your favorite movie theater?

Ebert: The Auditorium Lumiere at Cannes. Then the Virginia in my hometown of Urbana-Champaign, where I hold my film festival. A big, old, ornate RKO vaudeville house, now restored, with a balcony and an organ in the orchestra pit.

THR: The role of the serious film critic is threatened. How will this affect films themselves?

Ebert: Infotainment and gossip are replacing criticism. The result will make it harder for great films like "Synecdoche, New York" to find audiences, and put even more pressure on the studios to grind out brainless Friday night specials. Nothing can be done to correct this slide but a vast improvement in the nation's educational system. I don't think Jay Leno has to look very long to find talent for his "Jaywalking" (segments).

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